It’s a funny subplot in popular music’s history that a friend of mine pointed out in a conversation a couple of years ago; the most timeless, interesting music always tends to happen at the tail-end of a decade. He was pointing out how crazy the music industry went in the late ’90s, and how bands like Superchunk had unbelievable and hilarious amounts of money thrown at them, and bands as obviously offputting and angular as Placebo could become superstars, but it extrapolates across the decades; in lists like Rolling Stone’s 500 greatest albums of all time, Sputnik’s own user-voted all-time chart, and the Top 3000 albums on Acclaimed Music, there’s a real swing toward records that arrived in the latter half of their decades. On Acclaimed Music, it’s only 5 of the top 20 and and just 17 of the top 50 that represent the first half. Look at the best-selling albums of all time on a worldwide level, and you’ll see that of the 20 studio albums to have solid more than 30 million copies, only 6 have a year ending in a number lower than 4. Where it should be half, it’s nearer to a quarter.
The one obvious explanation is that both musicians and labels – not to mention the media – are always eager to fashion out an identity that will define the decade, leading to a mad scramble of anything-goes creativity as people spend two or three years looking for the next big breakthrough. Once that identity is established, everything slowly becomes identikit, until the next rush begins. Maybe. Whatever the reason, the facts back it up.
So why has 2010 offered us so many great albums already? The ratings we staff are doling out so far seem crazy – even the harshest of raters are slapping 4.5s and 5s over records like Cosmogramma and The ArchAndroid, not to mention the wave of acclaim being showered over the likes of The Tallest Man on Earth, The National, Deftones, Dark Time Sunshine, Joanna Newsom, and VoicesVoices.
I wish I could tell you we’ve just lightened up, but the reality is that this really has been an astonishing year so far, and it’s refusing to slow down. So why now? Why 2010? It’s a curious subversion of history. I wonder if there’s a good explanation.